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HTF REVIEW: "White Oleander" (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED) (with screenshots)


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#1 of 13 Ronald Epstein

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Posted March 02 2003 - 08:48 AM

Posted Image

White Oleander






Studio: Warner Bros.
Year: 2002
Rated: PG-13
Film Length: 109 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1)
Subtitles: English, French and Spanish



Where does a mother end and a daughter begin?


As you browse through the shelves of your local
video store you might easily pass by White
Oleander
without giving it a second thought.
The cover art is sort of bland -- certainly not
something that reaches out to you and says "rent
me!" Of course, as always, I find out it is these
very type of titles that I enjoy the most.

Posted ImagePosted Image

Based on the best-selling novel by Janet Fitch,
White Oleander is a memorable story of a
young woman's journey through hardship and loss
to maturity, happiness and true independence. The
entire film is carried on the shoulders of its
talented star, Alison Lohman who plays Astrid, a
12-year-old girl who lives alone with her single
Mother Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer), a brilliant,
beautiful, cold, and manipulative woman who has
just been jailed for killing her boyfriend. This
is an event that is about to change both their
lives forever.

Posted ImagePosted Image

Astril finds herself being shuttled through a
series of foster homes. Her first foster Mother,
Starr (Robin Wright Penn) is a bible-thumping
former stripper with an alcoholic past who lives
with her boyfriend, "Uncle Ray" (Cole Hauser).
When things suddenly go sour, Astrid finds herself
moving into the home of Claire (Renee Zellweger),
a lonely actress who lives in a lovely Malibu
home near the ocean with her husband (Noah Wylie).
While Claire and Astrid form a sisterly bond between
them, their happiness will soon be shattered as the
relationship becomes suddenly sabotaged by Ingrid
who continues to exert power over her daughter
even from prison.

There is so much I am leaving out of my synopsis,
and that's because this is a long hard journey with
occurrences that are painful and truthful. It's a
very powerful film that can often be depressing. But
while the revelations are often hard to swallow,
the movie comes across as totally believable. I am
so extremely impressed with the performances of all
these actresses -- especially Michelle Pfeiffer who
deserved a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her
role. By the way, it was a nice surprise to see
the appearance of Patrick Fugit, the kid from
Almost Famous, who plays the role of Astrid's
comic-collecting boyfriend.


How is the transfer?


This is another one of those consistently top-rate
transfers from the folks at Warner Bros. In fact,
looking at my notes, I had very little to say about
the overall transfer quality of this film - and that's
a good thing. Everything looks wonderful here from
colors that are perfectly balanced to a print that
looks immaculate without any background distraction.

Posted Image

The 5.1 Dolby Digital surround track is tastefully
done. Thomas Newman's prototypical piano score comes
across the front channels with distinct clarity. The
rears provide just enough activity to give the film
its needed ambience. No complaints here.


Special Features

Posted ImagePosted Image

Though I heard only bits and pieces of the full-length
audio commentary, I found it to be highly
intelligent discussion. The commentary features
Director Peter Kosminsky, Producer John Wells and
original novel author Janet Fitch. Thanks to the
fact that you have the author here in addition to
the principal filmmakers, we really get some in-depth
discussion about how the characters were transformed
from book to screen. There's a lot of discussion
about character development (including the suitcases
we see at the beginning of the film), and some of the
tooling that had to be done after the film was shown
to test audiences. Kosminsky was very careful to
keep the performances in this film very low-key in
order for the audience to totally believe in Astrid's
journey. The director totally dominates this
commentary -- which is a good thing -- as he keeps
the information flowing with very little pause. I
think many of you will find this commentary to be
as deep as the film itself -- perhaps deeper.

For those that enjoyed the film, The journey
of White Oleander
becomes quite an interesting
featurette for the fact that it manages to provide
some interesting background on the story's journey
book to film. We begin with author Janet Fitch who
never imagined her book would be made to film. You
can give much of the thanks to producer John Wells
who read the book under the insistence of Warner
Bros., and immediately snatched up the film rights.
The producers had always had Michelle Pfeiffer in
mind to play the manipulative Mother, but had a
tough time searching for an actress who was able to
play the part of a girl that ages from 12-20 during
the course of the film. Alison Lohman was just
perfect -- not just for her acting abilities -- but
the fact that she looked like she could be Pfeiffer's
daughter. There are interviews here with all the
cast members who tell the story of their individual
characters, as well as an interview with director
Peter Kosminisky.
(length: approx. 13 minutes)

The making of White Oleander is another one
of those promotional featurettes that gives us
interviews with the cast and film team while quickly
glossing over the film's content. Here again we
mostly have Lohman, Pfeiffer, Zellweger and Penn
talking about their individual characters while we
get a few glimpses of them from behind-the-camera.
It was also interesting to find out that the
success of Finch's book was mostly due to Oprah who
brought it to the public's attention through her
renowned book club.
(length: approx. 11 minutes)

There are 5 minutes worth of deleted scenes
presented here, and it's really sad that this material
had to be cut because it manages to expand a little
further Astrid's relationship between her first two
foster Mothers, Starr and Claire. Good stuff here!

In addition to a HIGHLIGHTED cast and crew
filmography (they don't even list CHICAGO in
Zellweger's credits), the film's original theatrical
trailer
is included.


Final Thoughts

Posted Image

White Oleander is a film is loaded with good
performances, and though this film filled with
dysfunctional relationships may not be everyone's
cup of tea, I found it to be a very powerful and
often moving film. It is worth watching just for
the performance of the film's top-billed star,
23-year-old actress Alison Lohman.

Definitely worth a rental!


Release Date: March 11, 2003


All screen captures have been further compressed.
They are for illustrative purposes only and do not
represent actual picture quality

Ronald J Epstein
Home Theater Forum co-owner

 

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#2 of 13 Leif Wall

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Posted March 02 2003 - 11:54 AM

That cover says "don't rent me"?! j/k

Haven't seen this movie yet, but it sounds like the type of movie I like, so I'll be picking it up for sure.

Alison Lohman is 23 and playing a 12 y/o in the movie? I find that almost disturbing.

#3 of 13 Yumbo

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Posted March 02 2003 - 12:19 PM

Ron,

a suggestion.
please include sound format in your tech summary box up top.
this data is what most people look for initially.

thanks

#4 of 13 Martin Fontaine

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Posted March 02 2003 - 01:20 PM

Another suggestion, at the top, when you state the aspect ratio, can you also mention if there is a Foolscreen version also available? As a "Buyers Beware" or warning that you "Can't rent this if your rental place is run by assholes"
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#5 of 13 Tom Foley

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Posted March 03 2003 - 04:26 AM

Ron, I don't want to dilute the effect that a high recommendation has here by giving it to too many DVDs. But I'm surprised you didn't highly recommend this DVD as well, especially because beyond its technical achievements, you seemed to have enjoyed the movie as much as I did.

The cover don't just say "Don't rent me," it also screams something even worse - "CHICK FLICK!" In fact, all of the marketing for this movie seemed to go for that angle, which is a real disappointment. This movie is intelligent, moving, and does not waste one line of dialogue. I left the theater thinking that rarely had I seen a movie that had such powerful female characters, who also completely drove the story, without trying to hit you over the head with pointless sentimentalism. Michelle Pfieffer's character is so disturbing and she gave the best performance of her career.

I think the fact that this movie was not released at the end of the year did little to help it come Oscar time (like Road to Perdition), but that it got no nominations at all, at the very least for Alison Lohman, is such a shame. Don't let that sway anybody's decision to at least rent this one.

#6 of 13 Ronald Epstein

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Posted March 03 2003 - 08:36 AM

Tom,

I really wanted to make this a HIGHLY
RECOMMENDED title. Problem is, as good as this
movie is, I suppose I fear the repercussion from
members here who may find it too depressing.

I'll think about "upping" the status of this film.

Ronald J Epstein
Home Theater Forum co-owner

 

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#7 of 13 ThomasC

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Posted March 03 2003 - 09:16 AM

How does a depressing movie make itself bad? There are many films that have depressed me to no end, but yet I put them in high regard because they obviously got to me emotionally and otherwise.

If it weren't for Thomas Newman's score, I think I would've liked this movie a lot better.

#8 of 13 Nate Anderson

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Posted March 09 2003 - 04:04 AM

I wanted to see this one in the theater, but some of the mixed reviews kept me away, but I will be sure to rent it!
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#9 of 13 LaMarcus

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Posted March 09 2003 - 06:26 PM

I viewed the trailer for this film in the theater and thought it would be very good. I forgot all about it this movie, thanks for the review, because now I will remember what it is when I see at blockbuster and won't be thrown off by the cover art, because it does suggests it's a "chick-flick".

#10 of 13 SteveGon

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Posted March 09 2003 - 06:48 PM

Quote:
Problem is, as good as this
movie is, I suppose I fear the repercussion from
members here who may find it too depressing.

Not from me. Some of my favorite movies are quite depressing. Ever seen Voyager? Now THAT movie is depressing! Posted Image

Anyway, thanks for the review - I probably would have passed this one up. Now I'll give it a rental...

#11 of 13 Dave_P.

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Posted March 10 2003 - 02:00 AM

Well, I had instantly dismissed this film as chick flick back when it was in the theaters, but after seeing the "highly recommended" tag on this, I checked out Ron's review and now it sounds like something I would be very interested in seeing. I actually like depressing films (throws in a welcome reality check for all the happy films out there) so I'll pick this up for $15 at Best Buy tomorrow.

#12 of 13 DaViD Boulet

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Posted March 10 2003 - 08:00 AM

I love films that are often considered "dark" (my word I prefer to use as "depressing" doesn't always convey the depth, power, and dignity that a "dark" film can engender).

No problem with a highly-recommended status over here!

-dave Posted Image
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#13 of 13 Armand G

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Posted March 31 2003 - 10:48 PM

Just saw the film. It was very powerful indeed. The acting performances were very solid. The story is a bit depressing but I don't need a happy story or a story with a happy ending to enjoy it. And about being a chick flick. I am one of those men that actually don't care about other people's opinions.
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